News: Friendly soccer match builds relationships between ANA and ISAF
Story by Cpl. Mariah Best
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Soldiers of the 205th Corps Advisory Team, Bulgarian Security Forces Assistance Team and 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment know the true meaning of partnership and friendship as they gathered together to play a friendly soccer match against soldiers of the 205th Hero Corps, Afghan National Army, at Camp Hero, Kandahar, Afghanistan, Feb. 20, 2014.
Since cricket and soccer are two recreational sports widely played in Afghanistan, soldiers of the CAT suggested arranging a soccer game against their ANA counterparts as a follow-on to a previously played cricket match.
“We play soccer every Friday with the Bulgarians and decided to organize a friendly game with the 205th,” Pte. Jade Cook, rifleman for 1RAR force protection, and captain of the coalition soccer team, said. “We have built some good rapport with the ANA guys we work with everyday, and this is their preferred sport.”
Captain Ben Milo, 205th CAT civil military operations advisor, was the one who originally came up with the idea of having a cordial game and helped to initiate the panning process with the Afghan sports officer for the 205th.
“They were happy to plan it,” Milo said. “After we approached them about the match, they said they would play us no problem.”
Milo explained that their weekly soccer events helped to inspire the decision to brave the ANA in a second sports match.
“During the cricket match, we got flogged,” Milo said. “Whatever team they put together was a bunch of young guys and they obviously picked their best players out of the entire ANA.” Something the coalition team had to their disadvantage, Milo said.
“I think that was an actual team we played, so they had some time to play together, where we had never really had much experience playing on a team with each other,” he added.
After a month of planning and organizing, the hard work was a success as each 16-man team made their way to the dirt field to play in front of a large crowd of supporters.
“The game was well timed,” Maj. Scott Holmes, CAT advisor to the 205th deputy commander, said. “It provided a (first-look) as far as partnered security between the 205th and coalition forces, as we lead up to the elections. It helped instill trust.”
All nations involved had a hand in the planning process and the game. Bulgarian SFAT soldiers made up a portion of the coalition team and helped provide security for the game, as did 1RAR force protection.
“All the operations leading up to the game were partnered, from the security, organizing the event, and letting the soldiers from the CAT and the 205th work together,” Holmes said.
Operations leading up to, and after the game provided a deeper insight for both the CAT and the 205th on how cohesive future partnered operations could be.
“It is important for soldiers to practice competing, being physical and acting as part of a team within a code that requires discipline,” Milo said.
Though the game was organized as a fun and friendly way to enjoy the nice weather and ease into the weekend, it resulted in much more.
“Sports transcends the communication barrier, and it provides the opportunity for junior soldiers on both sides to see each other outside of their daily roles; all geared up serving as force protection for their higher ups,” Milo said. “It brings everyone to the same level.”
Milo explained that exposing younger soldiers to different culture styles even when it comes to soccer is an important teaching tool.
“There is a lot of ceremony behind it, like before the game we passed out coins and greeted everyone,” Milo said. “It is good for junior soldiers to see that this is more than a game.”
Seizing the opportunity to build a bond with the ANA is what trumped winning for the coalition team.
“Overall it was a great success, and I think it is a good thing they won the game,” Holmes said.
While the coalition team lost the game 6-1, it did not deter from all the players’ good spirits and their sportsmanship.
“It was a fun rapport to build with the leadership, friends, and coalition supporters,” Cook said. “Even though we lost, it was good to see that mix; soldiers to lieutenant colonels, building relationships on different levels.”
“At the end of the day it was a good run and more about making friendships,” he added. “No one got upset and everyone had fun.”